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ALLEZ LE K (from

Valencia - 2005-11-28

Source :
Peter Rusch/C.El /

The French team K-Challenge is either going to be among the best stories of this 32nd America's Cup or one of immense disappointment and regret. Although not among the first teams to register its challenge, K-Challenge was the first new team to be founded with its eyes on this edition of the Cup, launching its campaign whilst the 31st America's Cup season was being raced in the winter of 2002-2003. The team competed in the 2004 and 2005 Louis Vuitton Acts achieving promising results, but is currently searching for a sponsor to secure its funding to continue.

France holds the record for longest consecutive challenges for the America's Cup, but until now, it's generally been a record distinguished by quantity - every challenger series since 1970, rather than quality - no French team has advanced to participate in the America's Cup Match.

K-Challenge, initiated by syndicate head Stephane Kandler and team leader and sailor Dawn Riley, set out to change this around. Although the team carries the support of the French government and is proudly French, it is a more international squad than any of its predecessors, with Kiwis, Americans, Australians and other Europeans filling out positions on the team. The hope is to retain the individual flair and vision that previous French challenges have been famous for, whilst adding some anglo-saxon directness and team spirit. Over the course of the 2005 season, K-Challenge demonstrated it may have just found that perfect balance.

"We have the passion of the French, the Latin temperament, which is a key part of the team's make-up," Riley said, describing the team to a reporter in Malmö-Skåne. "Working for a team of such passion is a big attraction for many of us."

Spectacular progress

The racing results for the team have to be taken in context to appreciate the progress K-Challenge has made. The team earned four wins in the match races of the Valencia Louis Vuitton Act 4 to open the year. Skipper Thierry Peponnet's squad then fell back with just three victories in Malmö-Skåne, before exploding for seven wins in Trapani, including highlight victories over Desafío Español, Emirates Team New Zealand and a previously 'undefeated-for-the-season' Alinghi. This was the breakout the team needed.

"It is a great moment for us…It is not everyday that you beat Alinghi. They've controlled the game all year, but today we took our chances and succeeded," said an ecstatic Thierry Peponnet, skipper, after the fateful race win over the Defender.

"A big win like this helps any team mentally but especially one where the race is fought back and forth. To win when the other team breaks down is one thing, but no, this kind of a win is definitely mentally very positive for the whole team," agreed Dawn Riley.

The success in Trapani was the result of many smart decisions made over the life of the three-year old team. Among these was the inspired acquisition of a pair of Cup-winning boats in NZL 57 and NZL 60 from Team New Zealand. NZL 60 is the boat the Kiwis used to defend the America's Cup in 2000, and although it is one full generation old, the French were able to access all the design data that went into it. And as FRA 60, the boat is still extremely competitive, especially in light to moderate conditions.

"We purchased the boats because we believed they were from the same family of boats as Team New Zealand and Alinghi in 2003," Riley said. "I think that has proven true."

Unfortunately, at the end of the 2005 season, a tired FRA 60 suffered some serious structural issues and K-Challenge was unable to complete two of the five fleet races to close the season. Despite falling back to 12th place in Act 9, the team finished the season championship in seventh position overall, just two points from the top half of the fleet, a result it surely would have achieved with even an average result in Act 9.

"We have amongst the smallest budgets of all of the teams and so being here and being able to play with the big teams and do so well in the match racing, beating Alinghi and the Kiwis, the last two Cup winners, is a great achievement," summed up Stephane Kandler at the end of racing in Trapani. "We achieved what we set out to do, which was to be right behind the big teams. That's done - we're there. So we have the potential. Now we need the money to be able to compete in a more fair way."

The plan over the winter is to secure its funding and begin building a new boat. The base in Valencia is nearly complete, and the squad still has its training facility in Gandia. This is a team that is ready to make some serious progress in the 32nd America's Cup, but for its funding.

"We've done everything we could. I'm optimistic," Kandler says. "France has always been in the modern America's Cup. It's just a question of when and what we're able to achieve. If we want to compete to win, we have to have it very soon."

For K-Challenge, the clock is ticking.

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